Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Reporter
MRS Sikhathele Musakwa vividly remembers telling her former headmaster at David Livingstone High School that she wanted to be a school head when she grew up.
This wish was met with scorn as the head told her she could do something better with her life than aspire to be a school head.
“Sir, I want to be a school head at my own school which I am going to build one day,” she said and the rest is history.
Thirty-four years later, Mrs Musakwa (51) now boasts of establishing the first private school in Beitbridge which has grown from being a pre-school to a renowned primary school.
Oakleigh House School is not only the pride of the border town but has since grown to be a favourite even for South African children who live in Musina and other nearby places.
Before founding the school, Mrs Musakwa first worked as a primary school teacher, teaching Grade Ones in two schools where she gained the knowledge and experience needed to run the school, which also helped Beitbridge gain its town status.
The perennial business person of the year award winner in Matabeleland told the Chronicle that all she wanted was to bring Bulawayo to Beitbridge as she realised that the education sector did not inspire confidence back in 1992 when she first set foot as a teacher at Lutumba Primary School.
In 2018 she was awarded the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) in China and to date that remains her milestone achievement.
“I, however, spent most of my training time at Beitbridge Mission school and even after graduation I was deployed there. Previously I had been at Lutumba where parents did not even value education. I remember children did not even have or afford exercise books, pencils which I sourced from my own resources. I even approached clearing agents at the border and asked for used papers so that my children could use the other side,” she says.
“That didn’t work because after working hard to help to teach them to write from scratch, parents would use the same papers to roll tobacco. I was heartbroken but I realised God had sent me to this place for a reason. I was born and raised in Bulawayo and could fluently speak in isiNdebele and English but at this school learners only knew Venda and that was also a challenge.”
The sad picture of the state of affairs at Lutumba remained in Mrs Musakwa’s heart even after she was moved to the mission school where she was permanently employed as a Grade One teacher.
“As I continued teaching I realised something should be done for children before Grade One, it was a lot of work to have them start reading and writing at Grade One since there was no Early Childhood Development syllabus then. I then sat down and thought about the Montessori concept which I had learnt about which was a favourite.”
The concept inspired Mrs Musakwa to create a syllabus for children younger than six years and she used challenges she had noted in the border town to come up with possible solutions which could help.
“In 2004 things became bad and many teachers left, some left Zimbabwe. I, however, stayed as I was passionate about these young souls. I was so determined to bring change and make Beitbridge like Bulawayo in many ways. At one point I was working as a teacher for Grade One and Twos, a bursar, a senior woman and school head because there was no one. I would use my resources to run the school because school fees could not even buy us a receipt book,” she said.
After two years of toiling in five positions, Mrs Musakwa approached the district education office where a certain Mr Moyo told her to take the experience as an armour preparing her for the future.
“He wasn’t even sympathetic and refused to give me a single solution on how I could continue running the school without resources or support from the Ministry. I decided to persevere and then decided to jot down my syllabus which I shared with my cousin before submitting it to anyone. My cousin said before selling the idea I should first implement it myself which then gave me an idea to start my own pre-school.”
It was difficult for Mrs Musakwa to bid farewell to the Ministry which was, however, keen to bless her ideas as she had previously won many awards for being the best teacher and head.
In 2007 she started a crèche near the school and named it Montessori Kindergarten and within a few months she had pupils coming all the way from South Africa to join her.
“I managed to save and built myself a mansion, and parents then asked me to at least offer Grades One to Three for their children as they were in love with the services we offered. My dream was coming true and I went to the council and asked for land. I was asking to do something that had not been done, the council was hesitant but offered me six hectares saying I was to build in one year or else I would lose the land,” she adds.
Mrs Tumisang Thabela, the current permanent secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education who was then Matabeleland South provincial education director was also keen to give her a licence to register her own school as her good works were known in the province.
“We enrolled our Grade Ones in January, 2009 in my house which I had not yet occupied and I quickly set up a board of jerked up members who saw us constructing 12 classrooms in that same year. In 2011 we moved from the house to the initial school stand and then that’s how Oakleigh started.”
The overwhelming support from community members pushed Mrs Musakwa to add more grades and in 2013 the school registered with the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council.
“In that year we broke the ice, we scored 100 percent quality pass in terms of results and ranked amongst top 100 schools nationally and we have maintained that till today. The name of the school grew and we were alleviating challenges faced by Zimra officials who moved to Beitbridge from Harare, Bulawayo and other big cities where there were big schools. So we became a problem solver at one point the council approached us and told us that our school is one of the reasons why it was easy for Beitbridge to be granted town status,” she says.
“We now have 36 classrooms and I’m happy that we are constructing a college for Form Ones. When I came to Beitbridge I wanted to change the narrative by impacting the lives of children from ECD until university so I think one day we should be able to have our own tertiary institution.
“Up to today we are still trying as a school, adding this and that so that our learners become the best. We are at 585 learners at the moment and we have 36 classrooms. I have eventually become a role model to other women and young people and since I am now an administrator and since I am not teaching, I spend some time counselling our parents on how to make extra money so that they do not have school arrears. I mentor a lot of women as well as I believe that all of us can achieve greatness with support from like-minded family and friends.”
The school has 48 workers in total and at the moment there are an additional 38 who are constructing the college.
Mrs Musakwa says the school uses four of the official languages which are taught; isiNdebele, ChiVenda, ChiShona and English. “I remember how back then this community was resistant when it came to teaching children English. I remember they accused me of imposing the language on their children but I knew for them to fit in the world, they needed to be versatile.”
Besides running her school, Mrs Musakwa also finds joy in seeing happy children playing and having fun at school.
She says that alone gives her so much joy and it’s proof that teaching is her calling.
Born in Gwanda, Zimunzi District, Mrs Musakwa has two degrees from Zimbabwe Open University; Psychology and was given an honorary Doctorate for notable contributions she has made in Zimbabwe through education.
Mrs Musakwa is married with two children, one doing forensics accounts in Canada and the other is in Aviation Pilot School in South Africa.
“I am a go-getter who believes in sticking to one’s vision and I encourage my fellow Zimbabweans to work hard and be the change they want to see in their communities. The name of the school was inspired by oak – a prestigious, expensive and durable type of wood that represents the calibre of citizens that I am producing at my schools.” – @thamamoe
Article Source: The Chronicle